RSN’s Should Take Lead From Big Nets On Fantasy Front

CBS Sports announced Fantasy Football Today, a live 90-minute online show, will debut the first Sunday of the NFL season. CBS adds to its digital fantasy offerings, joining ESPN with pre-game fantasy football analysis that competes with the national pre-game shows during that all important few hours in fantasy football when owners set lineups for the week.

CBS and ESPN already broadcast a slew of live “traditional” NFL programming, which relegates fantasy to the digital-only world. Without local TV in the NFL, RSN’s are left holding a weekly studio show or game recap with little fan interest since everyone watches highlights all day on the major networks and online. While fantasy has crept into traditional football programming and game coverage, one thing we’ve learned is fantasy players always want more. Anything to get that edge.

Networks have tip-toed around fantasy for years now, almost afraid to dedicate a prominent weekly slot for coverage. If ESPN can televise a fantasy football special, any sports network can. Speaking mostly for NYC, my home, the RSN’s miss the boat in fantasy. Forget Jets and Giants weekly, promote fantasy football, turn the network into “the place” for fantasy football news. YES, SNY, and MSG have access to enough big names to generate interest. They can have leagues among analysts, between analysts and fans, or possibly even get players from another sport involved. I’m sure a few Yankees and Mets play fantasy football.

Take it to another level, make a reality series out of fantasy sports. Maybe it’s football and baseball to generate enough content. Fantasy owners in competitive leagues border lunacy with their dedication, it would certainly make for an interesting half hour show. RSN’s have an opportunity to capitalize on that lunacy, that constant need for information. Big name athletes and broadcasters with a big promotional push and good information can generate fan interest.

On the whole, this continues my theory that RSN’s (and some national’s) need to move away from repeat programming as much as possible. Radio simulcasts are one method, fantasy sports are another, especially during that down time after baseball before basketball and hockey hit full stride. Sponsors and advertisers will certainly pay a higher premium for original programming than another installment of fishing or harness racing. RSN’s have not fully capitalized on the potential of the NFL. SNY provided good Jets post-game coverage last season, but the NFL is so popular there is room to expand the pie.

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Favre Pushing the Limits of Overconsumption

Will he play or stay retired? Will Favre report to Green Bay or wait out a trade? He’s flying on his private jet from Mississippi. Wait, no, he’s go back home. For weeks the American public was inundated with Brett Favre news, even when there was none. ESPN staked out Packers camp just to say we’re here waiting for Favre. Then the bally-hooed trade to the Jets, which made things even bigger because, well everything in NY is bigger. Now his every move and every word leads the sports news. When is enough enough?

Actually, it might be too much already. While awareness of who Favre is jumped this summer (according to the Davey Brown Index), his trust and endorsement power took a hit. Favre put himself in the middle of a controversy. It’s disguised because they were no arrests or late night incidents, but it was a full blown controversy. Fans take sides, and many felt Favre was wrong in how he retracted his retirement and tried to force the Packers hand.

Further, Favre is testing the limits of overexposure. At some point public awareness reaches the point of diminishing returns. America had Favre shoved down their throats for weeks. It took weeks for the snail-like story to unfold, so many days he was the news because of no news. At what point do people get sick of him and tune out? Favre put himself into choppy waters. Sure, his Jets jersey set records for single day sales. Chalk that up to the NY factor, and a team with passionate fans desperate for a winner and a superstar. If any other NFL MVP was traded to the Jets, fans would buy that jersey at the same rate. The Jets have not had a superstar for years and are looking for someone to latch onto.

Living in NYC, it’s hard to take the pulse of the rest of the country, but will anyone in LA or Chicago care in October when the Jets are 3-3 playing in mid-October? CBS plans to continue the overexposure and put Favre’s Jets on at every opportunity possible. The story can go two ways from here: Favre plays great, the team makes a surprising run, plays competitively every week, and all hail Favre the savior; or Favre plays average, the team flops, and the fans turn on him quick. Think those Jet fans bought his jersey fast, watch how long it takes to boo him off the field after 4 interceptions against New England. The public will be left with the image of an aging player who didn’t respect the game and got what he deserves, not the star player who made one last run in Green Bay last season.

CNBC’s Darren Rovell reports his marketing clout took a hit because of his indecisiveness and unreliable comments. We’ll monitor his sponsorships as the season approaches and plays hit. If Favre wants to cash in, now is the time. He’s still a hero in NY without taking a snap. The TV and radio appearance deals are certainly on the table, and any Jet sponsor would love to use Favre as the front man. Meanwhile, back in Green Bay local TV should take advantage of the Favre love affair and get his face on the screen whenever possible. If Aaron Rodgers falters, the affection for Favre in Green Bay will multiply. He’s still a valuable commodity in that market, and will only get bigger if the team struggles.

Favre will serve as an interesting case study on where the line is for too much exposure. Marketing firms walk the fine line with their stars, and the news coverage, much of which Favre brought upon himself, was clearly too much. The best way to measure the impact is the fan reaction he receives on the road, the national ratings Jet games receive, and how many marketing opportunities come his way.

Perfect Storm Damages PGA Tour

When Tiger Woods announced he was done for the season after an historic US Open performance, all eyes were on golf to see if any eyes would watch without Tiger. Greg Norman helped boost generate some interest at the British Open, yet SUnday ratings still tumbled 15% without Woods.

Back in the States, the final major of 2008, the PGA Championship, already fourth of four in terms of noterity and history was already facing an uphill battle without Woods. How about this for timing: the Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics falls right smack in the middle of the tournament, Brett Favre gets traded on the eve of the opening round, and bad weather prevents the leaders from even teeing off in the third round. Bad things come in threes, well that’s three knockout punches for the weakest golf major.

Golf needs to generate interest outside of Tiger, something they have failed to do this decade, however this weekend there is impossible to guard against. The Summer Olympics is once every four years, and is not always the same weeks of the summer, never mind an Olympics with as much anticipation as Bejing has generated, mostly for non-sports reasons. Plus, the Favre story took over the headlines and reached a peak at the wrong time for golf. They could not have prepared for this perfect storm – except to have people care about the players in contention, and without Tiger there, few do.

CBS Ushers Out Old Generation With Packer

34 years is an historic run of broadcasting championship games. That’s 102 Final Four games, 34 Championship games. All good things come to an end, and well, Packer was no longer that good.

Let’s put that in perspective. Packer knows basketball, he can break down a coaching strategy with the best of them, something Dick Vitale should learn one day. Problem is he never changed with the times. Packer possessed a pompous attitude that came through in his broadcasts. He was stubborn, tackling controversial subjects with less tact than a professional wrestler. In today’s world, that emphasizes political correctness, Packer was a sad reminder of the way things used to be, constantly feeding into stereotypes, then making contrived apologies. Aggravation CBS did not need.

In full disclosure, I did not enjoy Packer as a broadcaster. In fact, I could never figure out why they stuck with him in the spot with such a strong arsenal of analysts sitting behind him. Too many times I felt Packer made the game about him. His delivery gave off a negative aura. Maybe it was his tone, or the the fact he doesn’t have the same excitement that other analysts bring, but he always seemed to look for something negative. He erred toward criticism, not praise. The broadcasting game passed him by. I can’t name one person younger than 30 that actually enjoys Billy Packer.

Still, he called games at the side of three legendary broadcasters – Dick Enberg, Brent Musburger, and Jim Nantz. Behind the scenes he did a lot for the game of college basketball, and, though it may not come through in his broadcasting, he genuinely cares about the game and the players.

One note on CBS, if they made this decision because of his “this game is over” comment in the National Semifinal when Kansas was torching UNC in the first half they made a huge mistake. They teach you to avoid that statement in broadcasting 101, but honestly, I don’t need Billy Packer to tell me the game was over. I thought it was too. I stayed tuned in to see if they could make an unbelieveable comeback. I guarantee not one person turned this game off because of that comment. The big college basketball fans – and the bettors – stayed with it. Those who switched, changed channels because it was a blowout, not because Packer told them to. It just gave CBS another reason to pull the trigger.

On Clark Kellogg, he’s a solid analyst, not a bad choice, but is he the best choice. I think Bill Raftery is a relic and Jay Bilas is an emergin star in the analyst position, who really knows the game. Like him or not, next March will feel and sound different.

Masters Leaving Money on the Table

CNBC’s Darren Rovell wrote in his blog last week how the Masters is probably the most valued sports entity that tries not to make money (http://www.cnbc.com/id/24065180), citing the lack of sponsorships, reduced ticket sales, and limited merchandise. Going a step further, Augusta is missing unmatched opportunities to capitalize in digital media, both financially and expanding its fan base.

To call Augusta National conservative is a monumental understatement. The club feels it has a responsibility to uphold old-school tradition, avoiding commercialization at any cost. It took years for it to allow CBS to provide full final round coverage, or allow sponsors on premise. This year they took the plunge, partnering with ESPN for early round coverage. However, television alone no longer cuts it, evidenced by decreased ratings almost across the board in network televised sports.

The Masters did increase its live online video this year, providing live video of the Amen corner holes, complete coverage of holes 15 and 16, and one hour of complete coverage each day leading into the television broadcasts, on Masters.org and CBSSports.com. Supplementing the live video feeds with blogs, interviews, interactive games, and a mobile component, Masters.org registered 5.4 million unique visitors through the week who requested a total of 6.7 million video streams, 16% and 59% increases over last year respectively.

However, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Golf in general, particularly the Masters franchise, holds a unique position to capitalize on digital media by supplementing, rather than duplicating, television coverage. In an era where networks take wide criticism for following Tiger Woods’ every move, ignoring the rest of the field, the Masters and CBS has an opportunity to lure more golf fans by expanding live online coverage to every hole. No longer held hostage by TV decisions, viewers can create their own experience, as if they were at the tournament, watching a particular hole all day, or following a particular group.

Imagine a complete interactive experience, where a viewer watching the famous 13th hole can pull up video of past champions playing the hole, or memorable shots at the 13th hole. A devoted Freddy Couples fan has a chance to relive his performance on a given hole, then watch him play the hole live.

Take it to the next step, put a blogger on every hole for the entire tournament, or following select groups, chronicling the day as it unfolds. Connect the bloggers with fans through a social networking component. Provide a message board, let fans play a game where they guess what club a player will use, incorporate them into the event.

Though some may seem far-fetched, the opportunities are endless. If Augusta wants to continue leaving money on the table to keep the franchise non-commercial, so be it, they need to leverage this opportunity for the good of the sport. Expanding digital coverage opens the door to the younger audience, and more international exposure, two important demographics for golf, both of which the Masters inherently ignores with his old-fashioned mentality. A fan in Korea is more like to watch if they can follow K.J. Choi’s every move, from first tee right through signing his scorecard. Younger fans will flock to the interactivity, and the ability to customize the viewing will keep them tuned in, as opposed to the occasionally slow, somewhat boring TV coverage, sprinkled with feature stories that may not appeal to the entire audience.

New media allows for deeper penetration with the group I call “die-hards”, the fans already tuning in or attending the event. Golf is the rare sports event where a fan attending will see an insignificant portion of the total action because everyone plays simultaneously. Using mobile video to distribute the live streams enables these fans to follow the action around the course using their handheld devices. This year Masters.org used mobile alerts to send tee-times, pairings, scoring updates, and tournament info. Organizers can increase online and mobile video by alerting fans when a leader is putting for birdie, or if someone just hit a hole in one. Fans may want to receive a text message each time Phil Mickelson is putting, or whenever Vijay Singh tees off. Overall, it creates a more engaging experience for fans in attendance, or just not at home watching.

Money is there to be made with ad dollars online growing each day, if the Masters feels capitalizing on new media would denigrate its franchise, that’s its choice, other golf events and media outlets owning golf rights have these same opportunities. At a cross-roads where TV ratings hinge on whether Tiger plays or not, with a slight decrease in popularity and play since peaking earlier this decade, golf has a unique opportunity to leverage new media to build interest across the globe. They must take advantage before other sports reel everyone in. Hopefully they are not too rooted in tradition to see this.